Friday, October 7, 2011

A Way to Help Kids Out of a Tantrum

As individuals, not just parents, we experience meltdowns, breakdowns and tantrums that get out of control and we stop thinking, and just react. It's usually during these times that we are feeling more than we are thinking and our emotions get the better of us.

Well, the same happens with our children.

For young children, especially, those not fully able to communicate clearly or have developing vocabularies, sometimes, many times will struggle to convey what it is they need or want, or think or feel and instead cry or shout it out.

When children become so caught up in a emotional breakdown they sometimes don't know how to stop, and may continue to cry or scream and be completely out of sorts until we come in to help them out of it.

I have experienced this behavior with Sarah where there are times she may just be tired or not get her way that she loses all mental strength to stay on track and has a meltdown of epic proportions.

As a result, I came up with an approach that I wanted to share with you, and something you may want to consider for your own kids. This process sort of came about on its own, out of desperation to help calm Sarah, but I believe it really works.

I call it RESTART.

R each out to
E ffectively
S tabilize
T antrums
A nd
R econnect with
T rust and support

How it works is you get down to the level of where your child is at, likely on the floor crouched over or in a corner on the couch or elsewhere. Once your child senses that you are there, and they are not lashing out or trying to push you away, which sometimes they might do, then get close enough to them and say to them "do we need a RESTART?"

At first, your child clearly won't know what this is. You then will begin to explain it slowly and in a low and calm voice. You will say to them that together we will say 1-2-3 and the word RESTART to start fresh and settle down. Children may grunt or turn away. Wait. Sit quietly. Then, try again.

Like Sarah, your children may stop the tantrum and try to figure out what it is your are saying to them. That is step 1. Their focus is now diverted.

Just the fact that you are next to them, at their level, trying to soothe them, helps to calm them down, eventually. If your kids are still crying and are out of sorts it may take a bit longer to get them engaged and for them to respond to RESTART.

Patience (which is not my strong suit) is important here especially if your child is accepting of your being in their close personal space at this moment and not yet ready to turn the tantrum off.

What I have realized with Sarah is that she gains the comfort from me being close to her, quiet and still, and knows that I am there to help and soothe her and to get her back to center.

If at first you say 1-2-3 RESTART and your child do not respond, try again after a short, quiet period, remaining next to them. Then, try it again and say, "Let's do this together. Let's say 1-2-3 RESTART and we can start fresh." Count with them and say the word RESTART with them as well.

There are times when I do this with Sarah and I cannot hear her as she says it really low, maybe sad for having gotten to this point. I then turn it into a game. I say things like, "I can't hear you. What was that?, Please say it with me, Let's say it louder."

Most times, after Sarah and I have reconnected with trust and support through the RESTART approach sometimes, many times, I can get a giggle or laugh out of her after the questions, such as those above, are applied.

Then, once we are back to center, with a kiss and a hug, I tell Sarah that I am not upset that she had a tantrum and thank her for letting me be there to support her when she needed me.

Where this RESTART concept works best is when children get caught up in their emotions many times due to fatigue that they don't know how to stop the tantrum in its tracks and need our help to get out of it and back to start.

Please know that where this RESTART concept does not work is if a child is having a meltdown after a negative behavior such as pushing, punching or doing something completely inappropriate. We should not dust under the rug bad behaviors and have children learn that we can just ignore them if we RESTART.

Using RESTART has become a habit in our house where if Sarah has an emotional breakdown either because she is tired, confused or sad about something, this process works beautifully. Sometimes, I am amazed at how well it works. It also works as a way to discuss the reason why our child was feeling so upset and sad. It can help to ignite a discussion that is more calm as a result.

Again, this approach will not work if there is a negative action that a child committed that led to the meltdown. It's when a child doesn't know which way is up or how to get out of how they are confused and feeling because they are emotional. As parents, we can help to bring our children back from their emotional setbacks by checking our emotions (e.g., frustration, anger, annoyance) at the door when these tantrums take place and be focused on being calm and in the moment with our child.

I have learned all too well (as I have been known to be a screamer and shouter telling Sarah what to do and not do) that yelling gets us nowhere. Sarah and I both become emotional and control of the situation is out the door.

Just the other night, Sarah was at the dinner table refusing to eat. While I don't condone this behavior I did realize that the day itself was packed with much activity and a she did not take a nap. So, knowing that Sarah was likely very tired her actions made sense. When given a choice whether to eat at the table or to go to bed she lost it. She went into a full on meltdown.

We let Sarah act out and get out of her system what she was feeling. Watching her and hearing what she was saying it was obvious that she was out of sorts and not sure what to feel because of fatigue. She really needed our help. After a short while I got close to her. At first she told me to go away. So, I stayed but remained quiet. A few moments later I asked her if she needed a RESTART. She said no. I accepted her response. She then became quiet. She rolled over to face me. I connected with her. I then asked her again if she needed a RESTART and she nodded yes. Together, slowly, we counted 1-2-3 and said the word RESTART. We ended with giggles and hugs. If you can believe this, Sarah came back to the dinner table devoured her food, played some more and went to sleep easily.

Unlike adults who have a greater ability to manage their emotions, children, especially young ones, sometimes need our help.

Give 1-2-3 RESTART a try. Contact me if you want my help to go through it by discussing it or role playing it out. I think this concept really works. Let me know how it works for you.

Good luck!!!

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